It’s hard to find the words for how I feel about the proposed second Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty: cynical, depressed, angry, frustrated, concerned – all those, and more. This suggestion is an absolute scandal, revealing the authoritarian instincts of political leaders in Europe, and endangering the future of the EU. Brian Cowen should be ashamed of himself, and should resign. He ought to be standing up for his country’s decision and demanding that the EU truly get “closer to its citizens”, to use the Brussels jargon that is often mouthed and, as we can see from this re-referendum plan, rarely meant.
Everyone in Europe knows that a Yes vote wouldn’t have led to a re-run; the Spanish were never asked to vote again after they said yes to the Constitution (which everyone in Europe knows is the same as Lisbon). Everyone in Europe knows that the heads of government and the Commission dare not ask France and Holland to vote again. And everyone in Europe knows that this is an attempt to bully Ireland that shows contempt for its democracy and constitution and that will be backed by dark threats of being thrown out of the EU (which again, everyone knows France would never be threatened with). It’d be ludicrous for a Brit like me to appeal to the spirit of Easter 1916, but I suspect quite a few Irish people are wondering what was the point of getting rid of the British, if they’re going to submit to this kind of treatment by other foreigners.
None of this is about the Lisbon Treaty any more. Solely on the merits of the treaty I might have voted yes, had we had a referendum this side of the water, in say 2005. But the merits of the treaty have long since ceased to be the issue. The issue is whether the European Council will ever listen to the people they are supposed to serve. What’s now clear is that they must be forced to do so, and that the Irish must play their part by voting No again – with a bigger majority than the first time.
Yes, the Irish people should yet again vote NO. However, the economic circumstances have changed since the last referendum in Ireland and they are now very much worse. The arrogant Euro-politicos know this. The Irish people may well feel that they are now over a barrel.
Your emphatic outpouring does not stop to reflect on the situation of 23 member states which have formally ratified and two more where the parliaments have approved the Treaty of Lisbon, an international treaty reforming some institutional rules of an union which has expanded to 27 members. Hardly stuff for referendums on the merits (or stupid promises).
But your post illustrates the absurdity of layers of unanimity rules in an organisation aspiring to fulfil a meaningful role on the international stage.
However the Irish vote on the new assurances, perhaps the support for effective and democratic EU level rules will grow by a fraction.
In response to Ralf (who knows, I hope, that I respect and value his contributions to the discussion):
1. Many (most ? I can’t remember) of the countries that have ratified have done so in the knowledge that Ireland had voted “no”. I call that bad faith.
2. Lisbon is either important or it isn’t. If it is important (as I believe) its importance is substantially because it modifies the constitutional arrangements under which EU citizens live. In any democracy worthy of the name, the people who are sovereign, get a direct voice in such decisions.
If, on the other hand, Lisbon is only about “some institutional rules”, what’s all the fuss about ?
National governments – and those hangers-on who find it most convenient that governments continue to control the EU – will have to confront the fact that if the EU is to make most of the laws that bind us, they will either have to abandon the pretence of democracy or permit the union to evolve beyond inter-governmentalism, and quickly.
The signs are ominous as to which choice is going to be made.
The respect is mutual.
The Lisbon Treaty is in no way an easy piece for me.
Basically, I think that the security and prosperity of EU citizens would be better served under a democratic and accountable Europe with needed powers to act coherently on the world stage.
The Lisbon Treaty is a disappointing half-measure and some of the ‘innovations’ (such as the European Council President) go in the wrong direction, in my humble opinion.
But after eight years (since Nice), this is the what the EU governments have been willing and able to concoct.
The Lisbon Treaty has been finally ratified by 23 member states and two more national parliaments have approved the treaty.
In other words, a very broad consensus exists among governments (27) and national parliaments (25) that the Lisbon Treaty is the way forward.
I see nothing democratic in that one or a few member states nullify the political will of the others.
So while the Irish electors can claim to decide for themselves, there is nothing democratic in giving them a veto over the rest of Europe (even if our leaders have lacked the vision and wisdom to abolish the unanimity rule).
It is for the Irish to decide how they want to form their relationship within or with the European Union.
Perhaps, in a more reflective mood and given assurances where confusion has reigned, they might reach a more positive conclusion, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
By the way, the intergovernmental Europe President Sarkozy has glorified recently is a recipe for ‘clay feet’ down the road and totally against democratic evolution at European level. The Lisbon Treaty would give the European Parliament at least some new powers to scrutinise what the Council is up to.
The Lisbon Treaty itself required ALL member States to ratify it,. Hence, a mere majority does not suffice. It was meant to be all or none. There is actually nothing anti-democratic in this since every government signed up to the Treaty on that simple basis. Of course, the “europhiles” do not like the NO vote and so they are trying to force Ireland to accept it in the full knowledge that the economic downturn may just change the minds of the Irish voters.
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It’s very easy to sit back and criticise the re-run, whilst at the same time not proposing an alternative solution.
What on earth was Brian Cowen supposed to do? (1) Insist on the maintenance of the present Nice institutional arrangements in the face of the virtual doubling in size of the EU, with more Member States in the pipeline, thereby obstructing the further progression of an agreement which has been 9 years in the coming and which all other Member States have in principle agreed? (2) Ask for a third treaty? (3) Insist on one set of rules for Ireland, another for the rest? All unworkable solutions and would, I suspect, have resulted in Ireland being politely asked to leave the EU, disastrous in the current economic climate.
Let’s also correct a couple of issues. The Commission hasn’t asked anyone to do anything, the implementation of the Treaty is left to the Member States. There’s no question of “dark threats” or “bullying”, simply political expediency – the EU cannot afford to stand still in the present climate; if one State will not proceed, there are others willing to take its place. Finally, where on earth does the idea come from that all EU treaties should be approved by referenda? Ireland is the only state to have such a provision in its constitution, other states leave it to their elected representatives.
Finally, to Fergus – :
(1) Six Member States (CY, IT, NL, ES, SV, UK) ratified the Treaty following the Irish rejection. Two more are awaiting the result of the Irish re-run (CZ, PL).